Losting around Lake Turkana – Eastern shore from Ileret south (Part 2)

I wake up in my tent to birds chirping. I open the zip to soak in the views towards Lake Turkana from the hilltop at the Catholic Mission. It’s taking my breath. Time stands still in this place. It’s as if the soul synchronizes with the ancestors who strolled around this place a million years ago. It’s equally peaceful and volatile. So much water, yet none to drink. No rains for the last 11 months.

Good morning over Ileret

Part of me longs to stay for a week and get lost here. But the toughest riding through Marsabit is still ahead. I snap back into reality. This is not a solo ride after all.

Djo waves his Good Morning from near his bike. Wow. We rode 1,000 beautiful and eventful kilometres spread over 6 hot and long days from Nairobi towards the Ethiopian border through Pokot and Turkana. We missed exploring the Ilemi triangle but arrived safely on the Marsabit side via boat last evening – our phones on Ethiopian network on arrival. 

An incredible adventure. If you missed part 1 of this story, here’s the link. And now that you’re here, read Djo’s account of this trip, too! (It has amaaaazing photography 🤯 )

We take a recovery and exploration day in Ileret before starting the journey southwards back to Nairobi.

Day 7 – Tourism Day in Ileret

Have you looked for Ileret on the map already?

Let me tell you something. 

THIS PLACE IS REMOTE!!! It’s constantly drought struck. The majority of people around here live a nomadic lifestyle and culture. Nothing grows here that most of us would call a plant. Cattle really matter and livestock conflict occurs from time to time. Three days before our arrival the area made headlines on national TV with thousands of livestock dead from drought. Google Maps will not show you a road here. Even using satellite view you will not find one easily.  

Wakili and I have spent hours discussing riding to this place. I have met Father Florian, a German priest and Benedictine monk who has been up here since 2002, to learn about the mission’s work. After coming to Ileret, I agree with his words “To support the people of Ileret, you have to come here and live with them”. He’s not a fan of one-off charity.

The Turkana Basin Institute has an office here and one of their employees approached us at Women Bikers’ Association-K some time ago to arrange a girls mentorship initiative in Ileret for lady bikers. She’s been a friend of WBA since then and I was thrilled that I made it to Ileret and might see their community engagement work. Sadly, Richard Leakey and a senior TBI leader just passed on recently; and so she wasn’t around Ileret, but she took care of us via whatsapp and arranged our visit to TBI.

We are happy to not touch the bikes for a day, and get a lift in the mission’s car. 

4 wheels at last!

After a warm welcome by the TBI team, we get a tour of a GIZ funded hydroponics project. Skuma wiki and tomatoes in this dry and hot desert! Listening to the agronomist in charge, it sounds like research. He’s very experienced in hydroponic farming (a horticulture technique that grows plants in a nutritious solution instead of soil, and minimises water use) in other parts of Kenya, but mentions that here he started from zero, as the day’s heat and night’s cold interfere with minerals and pH value, thus the entire planting system.

Greens in the desert

The project aims to test out and establish hydroponic farming in this geography while training and engaging the local population to set up green houses and hydroponic systems near their homes in collectives. A whole water desalination machine is part of the project and water will be pumped around the place widely, because the half a dozen wells that were drilled all came out salty.

We’ve heard of so many failed agriculture projects on this trip that I’m thinking of coming back later this year to check on the progress 😉 Here’s a link to read more:

The main work of TBI of course is in paleontology, archeology and geology (yeah!). We are very lucky to have the Assistant Curator take his time to run us through the archaeological process and we get to see some fossils upclose.

We’re not allowed to take pictures, so you can either ride up there to see it for yourself or work with my descriptions 😀

First we start in the arrival room, where the fossils arrive from the field. They are covered in plasters that protect them on the bumpy truck journey. The items we see in this room are 1.5m to 4m years old. To estimate the age, geologists join the effort and take soil samples near where the fossil was found.

Then the fossil has to be cleaned up carefully, which could take 6 years for an elephant for example.

We see huuuuge elephant tusks and a massive crocodile head. They are at least three times size of these animals today. It’s astonishing. We’re told that the area was a huuuge forest in the past, very green with nutritious food, meaning the animals were healthier and larger than today.

Standing next to a 2 million year old elephant skull makes me feel that we humans really are just a passing drop in the ocean. I feel so furious that for the last 150 years humans have felt entitled to hunt them down to near extinction.

Next we walk over to the collection room. There is a huge documentation effort going into this: A field number is assigned, documentation of where it was found, photos, soil samples, etc. There are currently 27,000 fossils in the collection which is under the National Museum of Kenya. It’s all extremely fascinating, but what sticks most with me is the patience and dedication needed in this field of work. 

More interesting info in the probably remotest place you can think of placing it. Why can’t the “museum” at Nariokotome pick a leaf?

We chill at the mission most of the afternoon enjoying the views.

Look at those thorns, then choose the right footwear for your trip :-S

In the evening we look for fuel to make sure we hit the wilderness awaiting us with full tanks. We get fuel in bottles at 200 bob. We’re later told it’s Ethiopian fuel which is said to have lower quality. We shall find out, won’t we?

The most incredible sunset overlooking the Lake

Around sunset I spot a scorpion just outside my tent. I know NOTHING about scorpions, and I’m told they attack easily and are poisonous but not deadly. To imagine that last night I went to pee a few times in my slippers 😱

No, there is no picture of the scorpion. Just google it, it was one of the orange East African species.

Day 8 – Ileret to Koobi Fora

In the morning, Djo finds another scorpion under his tent. We pack up carefully and say goodbye to everyone at the mission, then pass TBI for a photo.  

Probably the only joint photo of me and Djo on this trip.

Today’s a short but sandy day. Around 60 or 70km to the Koobi Fora base camp, partly through Sibiloi National Park. The road from Ileret to Loiyangalani is not on Google Maps, and because satellite view doesn’t work without internet, I had traced it on satellite view and pinned it down with a million stars. Talking of needing some certainty. 

Helpful public health information

After a quick 10km on sand roads and a warm-up bike drop, the road changes to pebbly tire tracks. The rest day pays off and I am finally getting faster at this. So fast that I miss the turn to Sibiloi. At some point I feel as if we’re going in the wrong direction. Maps and both confirm that we have to backtrack 3 or 4km. 

Beautiful bathrooms up there

We find the sign to enter Sibiloi National Park, which to our defence is slightly hidden. The rest of this day is best told in photos. 


The road is basically a combination of sand and stones in varying ratios
Sometimes more pebbles
Sometimes more sand
Photo session lazima
Acrobatics: Sand riding while dodging thorns and twigs
These park markers are the only reminder that you’re still under KWS care
Meet the Queen of Sibiloi National Park! No. Not the Tenere.
Arrival at the airstrip cum water dam
We find a cool lunch spot with a view!
After lunch: More of the same
A bit of mud
Some stones for a change
Note: When sliding on sand, sand enters everywhere
Lifting weights at gym time
Inching closer to the beach
At a diversion you never know which route is more torture. But sand punishes a hesitating throttle hand
It’s kinda scenic I guess
Enjoying Sibiloi’s Fauna… My jeans get ripped a good one by all these thorns
When the river is the road
More sand
We pick up speed on the smooth stretches
I navigate a successful lane change!
… only to find the other lane equally meh
We’re getting close to the beach
I can spot the water in the distance
More photos. By now I had to plaster both my thumbs which had sore wounds from taking the gloves off repeatedly over my heat-swollen hands

At some point the river becomes the road. It’s silly sand for a kilometer or so. I’m not doing badly and Djo disappears behind me. When the sand ends, I wait for a minute or two, enjoying the incredible silence up here and drinking water. But he’s not showing up in my mirror. I just know that he dropped the bike. Finally. A part of me is relieved that I’m not riding with some sort of super human. I remove my gear and shout his name. Nothing.

I really don’t feel like riding back so I walk back to look for him. By the time I get to his bike, he has lifted it and is loading his luggage (which he had to remove to lift the bike).

We’re extremely close to the camp, but the sand is beach deep now. Want to suffer with us for the last 1.5km (11 minutes) to Koobi Fora base camp? 

Knock yourself out with this helmet cam video (link)!

Arrival at Koobi Fora Base Camp

On arrival, we chat with the team and are informed that we’re very lucky because there is indeed rain water to drink. I nearly faint, but am told that everyone drinks it here. I relax my mind telling myself that the tank just holds water and dust, but you can never be too sure what bacteria are breeding in there.

My amazing flatmate Marg brought some chlorine tablets from Chicago in 2015, which have since long expired but I had popped a bunch in my luggage. I prepare 2 litres of water for my mzungu stomach.

At some point Djo confesses that he leaned the bike against a wall and needs help to get it out from there. At this point I don’t yet fully grasp the situation and lightheartedly offer to help.

Y’ALL! I find a huge heavy bike dug into a hole of deep sand between a wall and two wooden pillars. We try pull, push, lean, use stones, pull it lying on the ground. No progress whatsoever until we get help from staff. My biceps, again. But this makes up for at least 6 of my bike drops so I feel redeemed. 

The beach is so inviting for a swim. It feels like the perfect spot but I have mad respect for crocodiles so I have a bikini tanning session at the shore instead. Possibly paradise!

The most inviting beach I’ve been to along Lake Turkana!

Before sunset we also engage in a bit of bike care and use the nail polish to tighten a bunch of bolts on my bike. Comedy but I’m taking notes!

We make noodles and githeri for dinner. The tinned food is really coming in handy.

Let’s face it: my noodles by now are just wheat powder. But Djo is a pro and had packaged his for off-road survival.

I do a micro yoga back stretch session while watching the stars lying on top of a wall. After the encounters with scorpions in Ileret I keep my boots on all night.

Today we covered around 100km on rough and sand roads!

Day 9 – Koobi Fora to Loiyangalani

Highly ambitious, we had decided to go to Loiyangalani directly from here. So it’s going to be a long day. We’re not exactly sure where next we will get drinking water, so we fill up all the canisters and bottles from the rain water tank.

To get to Loiyangalani, we have two routes in mind: via Moite or the more visible car road which I traced on Maps, from which we would join the North Horr – Loiya road around Gas town.

Either way we have to cross Sibiloi National Park and get to Karsa Gate first.

After paying our 200 for camping to the museum ticket agent, we backtrack to the air strip in around 45 min, which is maybe half of yesterday’s time. Engines are getting hooot as we carefully manoeuvre the 8 or so kms of deep and shallow sand.

Good morning from Koobi Fora

At 9:16am we turn right at Parkmarker 14 and have another 45 km of Sibiloi ahead of us. We estimate 4 hours to the gate with breaks.

Relief when the sand ends
Back to this – for a few hours this morning
When you don’t know why you fell – sooooo annoying

It’s pretty wild as we travel on a hardly used road. There are gravelly uphills where I get stuck on huge rocks that you then remove from under your bike while somehow still sitting on it. First gear holds the bike, at least I’ve figured that part out by now. Lots to learn and laugh. Overall looooots of fun.

Sometimes the terrain is that wild that the only road option is the river. It must have been crazy muddy here a few days ago! We find it completely dried up 💃🏿

Water break
Imagine riding in this mud
Twende Kazi
Djo and camera waiting for what?
Oh, he was on standby for stone removal duty. He probably thought that’s easier than lifting my bike 😹

Another river crossing. And another one. Not the white sand but it’s darker now. At some point the (sandy) river is the road, then you cross a rocky riverbed, and a bit later you follow a rocky river as the road. It’s chaos.

We later find a video on facebook showing a landcruiser driving on this road through 1m deep water. Bonkers 🤣

Just confirming in the mirror if I’m still alive
Top speeds not above 25 km/h
I’m getting better at this!
Rewarding views!

What goes up must go down, so there’s that one gravelly descent down a mini escarpment. I try the 2nd gear engine break technique, but freak out half way through when bigger rocks show up. 1st gear would have been smarter. Still more practice needed!

The petrified forest fossil site is just before the gate. The quick 6km detour is worth it. We pass some colourful stones and pebbles and get to the petrified trees and wood stumps.

I’m even wearing my miti t-shirt!
It’s fascinating! These logs turned rocks! Now say it with a Kikuyu accent! Thank you.
Back to the main road

When it’s just a few kms left, is when you get to a final massive river crossing.

We each get through 2l of water before even getting to the gate. We pay our park fees and have a quick lunch. It’s super windy here. At 2:40pm we gear up for departure. It is 120km to Loiya, so we need to hit a 30 km/h average to make it. We’ve not done this on any day this trip! The roads look pretty decent on maps satellite and we’re told a land cruiser would need 4 hours. This statement could have been cause for concern but we ignore it.

I joked with the guard that we’re not paying because the only wildlife we saw were 3 birds and 1 rabbit

We fill up the water reserve tanks with more rain water at the gate and wet our t-shirts and Balaclavas for some cooling effect while riding. Djo is using the hack he got on AMD and cools his drinking water with a wet t-shirt from the ride’s airflow.

I don’t know what exactly I expected. But in my mind the road was going to be better starting from the gate 😉 It’s in a baaaad state and we take a good hour for the first 10km. Lots of deep holes, sand crossings and rocks and we just can’t get to a sensible speed. Basically, the gate is in the park, we conclude later.

Then it gets smooth and wide. But not for long. Gravel mixes in.

At some point we get to a KWS sign-post, which we were earlier told indicates the junction to Moite. Djo had raved about the road from Moite to Loiyangalani, but we just weren’t sure about the road to Moite from here. Only one person we asked knew about its state and they said it’s enough sand to get a 4×4 stuck. We decide not to find out and stick with the main road, however annoying and slow it is.

One of those moments you replay in your mind later.

We keep ploughing forward through changing terrain. We cross several riverbeds and pass at least one more areas where the river is the road. Sometimes you just can’t tell anymore where the river is. I don’t want to imagine this place with rain or floods!  

Finally we to a long sandy stretch, a few kilometers long. That beautiful evening light sets in and cattle cross the road. The first sign of human life since the park gate. I’m trying to make mile and I’m around 1km ahead of Djo when there’s a boda track leaving the road to the left. We’ve now learned that they tend to circumvent difficult stretches on the main road, but I also don’t want to get lost, so I stay on the main road.

I find a whole bunch of huge rocks on the road, and go down nearly at the end. Djo is nowhere to be found. No network. It’s 5:45pm. I try to lift the bike but have to remove the luggage first to succeed. It takes me some time to tie it back. Djo hasn’t caught up yet and I worry that he took the boda track and is now ahead of me. What a disaster: I imagine how he’s chasing me, yet I’m behind him. I send him a text with my GPS coordinates (that doesn’t actually go out for lack of network) and continue riding. By now it’s 100% clear that I won’t make it to Gas by sunset. 

We are still around 80km from Loiyangalani and the terrain allows no speed. There are no signs of human life whatsoever: No livestock and no huts. We haven’t passed a single car since the park gate. I don’t have lights on the bike, so I decide that I would pitch my tent on the roadside wherever I will have reached at 6:45pm and continue with sunrise. I don’t feel unsafe at the thought but considering there is no network, my people including Djo would probably start freaking out if I’m not reachable at night in rural Marsabit.

Around 10 minutes later Djo shows up from behind. Relief!!! 

He also fell (not far behind me it seems) and also had to remove his luggage 😅 Now who let who down?

We continue and reach a fairly wide and straight road. Djo keeps checking his GPX recording from a previous trip with Wakili. At some point we realize that we have deviated from their route, but are still on this wide main road, so it feels fine.

Another moment we will keep reviewing in our minds.

We miraculously cover another 15 clicks until we get to a junction pretty much at sunset. Should we take the right narrower road towards Gas or the wider one straight ahead towards North Horr? 

Which route would you have taken?

We decide that we can as well sleep in Gas. The town has been described as relatively developed with a few shops. Covering 30k in darkness seems doable with a shared headlight. 

Time for sunset pics. I have no idea why we were so calm. I guess ignorance is bliss sometimes.

Until the road turns into one deep tire track and we’re basically riding on large white stones in those tire tracks. The experience riding up the gorge to Lokitaung dwarfs in comparison. Even if we get to a smoother stretch with smaller pebbles, it’s just 200m long before it goes back to the madness. 

Djo’s light is super bright so at least we know what we’re doing. He rides in the left tire track and I ride in the right one. At some point we switch (so much work!!!), so that in case a fast landcruiser shoots along the road, I don’t get knocked. (No car comes, maybe this was our wishful thinking). I am making 8-10 km/h top speed, and just not getting to a smoother rolling 2nd gear. Maybe the bike is too light, doesn’t have enough power, or my tires are too small. But I’m also really worried of falling right now, so I’m probably really slow and look down too much. I’m sweating like crazy handling the bike at low speed on these rocks in first gear, constantly tapping my feet and having all this weight on my shoulders. This is not economical on our limited water supply at all.

We hardly make more than 500m before stopping to breathe and drink. 

At least we have excellent 4G network here and check the satellite pics. The road we’re on shines bright white on the images while the surroundings are dark brown for the next 15km or so. We interpret this as the entire stretch being this messy.

We keep going and manage a good 10km (in 80 minutes), but the stops become more frequent. My pants are rubbing my thighs sore along the seat’s edges because I’m walking more than riding. I’m fairly exhausted by now. At one of our stops, Djo checks his GPX and realises that we’re near a boda track and he suggests we leave this road and use the boda track. It sounds equally tempting and nuts. As we debate the idea, his bike battery goes flat. Flat as in his lights go off and the starter is not working. With both bikes not having lights, we’re basically standing in complete darkness in the middle of nowhere.

This is exactly how it looks like at that point.

I climb off my bike and light my phone torch to explore the surroundings. Going really slow for an hour with the bright LEDs has drained his bike’s battery. We’re still stuck in the tire tracks with stones. It seems impossible to pushstart him here, even if I wanted to try, which I don’t.

We debate our options (none) and decide to pitch camp. Djo is not sold but my logic is that the faster we sleep, the earlier we can wake up and figure out our next steps with some daylight. We push the bikes like 5 metres to the side of the road and then pitch the tents in torch light, looking carefully for scorpions (none!), then I sit on my bike to snack musli bars and tinned pineapple while Djo cooks his dinner. 

It’s 21:36 when I inform my crew in Nairobi of my situation. A part of the crew, rather. I have to give it up for each of these guys. Always supportive, checking in, and dishing out encouragement and jokes. The type of people who agree to be your emergency contact on such a trip. Who pick your phone call at odd hours – after taking a deep breath of course.

I prepare the final 1 litre of rain water we have left from the park gate with a chlorine tablet. This will have to get us to Gas, which by the map is just 12-15km away. What a nightmare thought to contract a water borne disease up here!

We have a short discussion on safety. Don’t ask how this went, cause tell me what measures exactly you’d take that you’d find sufficient?

My GPX recording says that we did around 150km today. No tarmac, for those who weren’t quite sure.

Day 10 – Middle of Nowhere to Loiyangalani

I wake up to motorbike sounds at around 1am. It’s quite surreal: I can hear it for a few minutes at equal volume, then it passes outside the tent and immediately can’t be heard. The wind is that strong. This is also the first vehicle since the park gate.

I fall asleep again and wake up at 6am. I start packing my stuff in my phone’s torch light.  

We have a bike to start and want to make the best of the early sunrays before it gets hot!

Sunrise at 6:56am over Middle of Nowhere in Marsabit

Looking around, I wonder if we are mad or lucky. Or both. Kilometres of Mars like surface with no houses whatsoever.

What was the rider thinking that passed our tents and bikes at 1am? And where on earth was he coming from and going?

Have you ever jump started a 220kg bike on rock dust? Well, I invite you to try but this morning it was not working for us. We try different locations, with me pushing as Djo duck runs the Super Tenere. The bike skids and the back tire just digs up the gravel, whether in 2nd, 3rd or 4th gear. It’s just past 7am and I’m already sweating! 

At last, a landrover drives by and stops to give us a full bottle of water. These angels were on a family visit to a nearby homestead!

Plan B: We can charge his bike from my battery! Getting to my battery means removing the tank. We lever up a messed bolt and connect the two with some wires and spanners. Just as we’re realising that his bike can’t start directly from my battery but would need slow charging, a bike passes with a passenger and a goat. They offer to help push the bike “sasa tuko wengi”, they comment looking at my biceps, but achieve the same result.

The goat was on her way to the market. No, not the cinema. She patiently waits for the journey to continue
As the guys figure out the battery issue, I start packing up my tent

Back to connecting the two bikes and slowly charging up the Tenere while running my engine. We thank the two gentlemen for their help and they point us to the boda track as an Eastern Bypass for the horrible road, also passing through a village with fuel. Yes!

Our team’s electrician connects the Tenere to be charged from the Spirit generator

As we try to increase the idle on my bike to keep it running, somehow my bike goes off. It’s all one beautiful mess! After playing around with the choke and idle and finally syphoning some fuel from the Tenere, my bike starts again (on the kick). 

In total we need over 2 hours to get moving but at 9:30am we enter the boda track. It’s smooth but really narrow and quite the random route over hills and between bushes. The local riders are ninjas! 

Finally a smooth road! If we’d taken last year’s Boda track, would we have slept in Loiyangalani after all?
Signs of human life!!

We arrive in a small village called Barambate.

The whole place is bloody windy!

We each top up 1.5 liters of fuel from the barrels in a lady’s hut, which we think should be enough to get us to Gas. The boda track is far longer than the bumpy road would have been but fairly smooth.

Throttling to Gas via the backroute
Arrival to Gas Town

By 11am we enter Gas town – but what an underwhelming sight the place is. A group of colourfully clothed women is busy constructing a hut, but otherwise I mostly remember garbage and plastic.  A local rider offers to help us find fuel and water. I’m really uncomfortable following him around, as he randomly passes between peoples’ houses and swerves around.

Djo enlisting some help to our endeavours 

He’s taking us to 3 different stores, but hakuna petroli. A car convoy has picked up all fuel yesterday we’re told. How did we ignore rule 1 in Barambate? Sigh!

At least we buy water and fill up all bottles and canisters. We estimate what’s left in our reserve tanks and find that we should have enough fuel to cover the remaining 40km to Loiyangalani and turn down his offer to ride back to the other village to bring us fuel.

We end up at his house and his wife offers us ugali cabbage and and some real good masala chai.

Interesting construction – I refuse sitting inside the windowless, smoky hut. Not just because of covid…

By 2 we’re on the road from Gas to Loiya. There is nothing beautiful or enjoyable about the first 25km of this road. It’s heavily corrugated. You really feel for the bike. It’s pretty windy. Gravelly. Hot. 

But worst of all: My steering seems stuck on “straight”, I’m running on rails and nearly fall a few times. I’m having a really hard time steering into the wind and into the corners smoothly. I am not thaaaat tired! What’s going on?

On the really bad hill sections the road is reinforced with some concrete.

I catch up with Djo who’s taking pics on the concrete and I tell him something is wrong with my bike, especially on the corrugations. He mentions also having a hard time after the smooth tracks, so we keep going. After I nearly fall on that same concrete stretch in a corner, he considers to believe me and we stop again to diagnose my steering. It just doesn’t turn smoothly. Seems that the bearings are shot. This is of course a gradual process but the last 500km probably didn’t help matters. But there is nothing we can do right here. 

We have to get to Loiyangalani.

The road is a mess

I don’t know how I manage the next 30km, but the beautiful views around El Molo and Layeni certainly help. Beautiful Jade Sea!

The Lake’s water level has reached the road near Layeni and El Molo

I have not entered Loiya from the North before, but remember that small junction from my last visit.

We head to Palm Shade Guesthouse. The team tells us they expected us last night. We nod but can’t explain ourselves. But my shower is heavenly! 

Local riders point us to the one fundi in town but he’s not in as it’s Sunday. We talk to him on the phone and on naming the bike’s model, he seems optimistic that we can source a set of steering bearings early on Monday. He promises to meet us at 7am.

We have an early dinner and I’m already stretched out in bed when the lights go off later this evening as the generator is switched off. 

70km done today and some serious workout pushing the bikes around in the heat 💪

Day 11 – Loiya to Maralal

We have to get to Maralal. There’s really no option. Sleeping in Baragoi doesn’t excite any of us based on our earlier experiences there.

This is 240km of rough roads and our estimate is 8.5 hours including 2 breaks.

We agree that if my bike wasn’t fixed by 9:30am, Djo would leave me in Loiya and proceed as he has some work commitments in Nairobi coming up.

At 7am we call the fundi who promises to arrive within the next 15 minutes, which he does. Turning my steering with the bike on the centre stand, we all agree that we have to replace the bearings. We ride to his workshop and he actually succeeds in sourcing the spare part. The guys take off the front wheel and I watch him knock out the old bearings (the plastic that holds the metal balls had completely disintegrated) and chisel in the new set, while Mr. Djo IY handles the quality control of the entire surgery. Paul does a really good job – highly recommend him.

By 9:04am I test the bike and find it running smoothly. We pay Paul and head to the hotel for breakfast and packing up.

By 10:45 we head out from Loiyangalani – 240km offroad loading! We both know the route well and it feels like the home-run. 

I’m most excited about the stretch from South Horr to Baragoi as I remember it being very beautiful from my last trip (link). Back then we didn’t stop for pictures because we were warned not to (bandits). Also, the metal holding my suspension had broken off, so it wasn’t a very comfortable ride.

On leaving Loiyangalani southwards we find the road heavily corrugated. It seems that there are more trucks nowadays and we even find a bus (!). The 30km to the wind farm are quite bumpy and not exactly fun this time round. I also nearly get knocked by a lorry.

We give the mad truck some space which gives us time for some snaps at the Jade Sea
Noone who’s been to Loiyangalani would ever forget this sight
I’m having so much fun. Bike feels new with my new bearings!

The wind is strong but most coming from one direction, so manageable. Once up at the wind farm, we stop to check on Djo’s exhaust, which has slightly moved from all the bumpiness.

This is the last time we see his entire toolkit. We later find that the metal holder of the tube holding the tools broke… These vibrations!! Makes you appreciate the physiology of your spine quite a bit! This must be the most painful loss of this entire trip. 😭

From here it’s a quick ride on the windfarm road to South Horr. After the wind farm road branches off the left there’s more sand, as we ride through the beautiful South Horr mountain range. We roll into town and stop at the shopping center, where I buy water and one of the fundis who fixed my suspension (and footpeg 😌) last year says hi, remembering every single GS he saw.

Approaching South Horr

On leaving South Horr we stop for pics between the trees, and a local guy ferrying two kids turns his head just a little bit too far, just a little bit too long, and drops his bike.

From here it’s a quick 40km to Baragoi. It’s very scenic but we’re trying to pick up speed where the sand allows.

This must be the last plot I acquire on this trip. With view on Baragoi town. Look at Djo’s “Sasa, ona huyu!” pose!

As we roll into Baragoi, most shops are closed, but my lunch spot is open. It’s already 4pm as we park at Mashallah Restaurant. The lady hugs me as she recognizes me and enquires how my friends are doing. We have some really tasty pilau, chicken, kachumbari and masala tea. 

And off we go entering the final 100km for the day. We aim to finish the corrugations fast and enter the mountains leading to Maralal before it gets late. We stop at the Barsaloi junction, where there’s a sign with bullet holes by the Catholic church advertising Barsaloi as the cleanest town in Samburu (go check if you don’t believe me!) – it’s already 5pm so we have no time for experiments, but I take a mental note to try this route another time.

I start panicking as I realise that they dug up the road in an attempt to widen it. I remember a relatively smooth track through the mountain range, but now it’s rather bumpy with big rocks and holes. Or was it the rain? It probably also feels more difficult than last time because we’re gaining 700m altitude and I don’t get enough power to fly up the rocky climbs. 

Up the mountains near Marti

Either way: I’m slower than I like. Soon enough, the sun sets over the dramatic Samburu hills.

By 7pm we’re near Suyani, around 40km to Maralal. Djo and I think about our options. We aren’t feeling the idea of sleeping here and decide to get to Maralal on a shared headlight. It feels safe to continue with the wider road and slightly more traffic than we remember from last year.

There are some dark clouds building up over the mountains and this area is chilly at night. We stop to wear rain gear over our mesh jackets.

Darkness. Now we get a bit wild. Djo is riding directly behind me and around 1-2m to my right. There’s no room to swerve, so we basically just gas through the mountains. We’re doing 30-55 on the bumpy rough road and I’m doing some of it standing for better visibility. It takes some synchronising and skill to ride on one headlight! On uphills or corners I’m basically riding with zero visibility for an instance until his light catches up. It feels thrilling and I let go, setting a decent pace.

At some point what looks like a gentle bump turns out to be a ramp over a deep ditch. We can’t even see the bottom of it. My bike takes off and we’re just lucky that I was doing good speeds, otherwise it could have been a nasty fall.

At 8:30pm I text my people that we’ve arrived safely. We find the fuel stations closed and look for a simple hotel and restaurant in town. 

Day 12 – Maralal to Nairobi

Noone’s looking forward to these last 330km. Tarmac. Kenyan drivers. Nairobi air and noise.

So we fuel up chap chap and hit the road to Nyahururu. It turns out that the entire Kisima stretch has been tarmacked since I was here last, and only a few kms are missing to close the tarmac all the way to Maralal.

153 clicks to Nyahururu where we fuel at Shell. I have to slap Djo as he is nearly dozing off from the tarmac boredom – it’s extremely understimulating after an adventure ride. 

We get lunch in Ol’ Kalou and continue via the Aberdares route through Engineer and connect to the Naivasha Highway from Njabini. I am always nervous about the Soko Mjinga stretch to Limuru, moreso without headlights but Djo leads, fighting off oncoming traffic with his many lights, and we find the highway not as busy. At the Gitaru traffic, I lane split between a bunch of police pick-up trucks, who are returning from some activity out of town. One of those annoyingly hyper white baby trucks cuts off two of the police trucks and gets reprimanded. I nearly fall off my bike laughing, but instead turn left to the Western Bypass and reach home in under 20 minutes.

HOME! I stop at my mama mboga and source a huge bag of mixed greens. After all the noodles and cabbage! My askari asks me whether this is when I’m back after all these many days. 👀

It turns out that my house key was in that hip bag. My good friend who keeps my spare key makes it across town to save me from camping in my own parking lot.

After the ride is before the ride

There’s the washing to do, and the bike repair to think through. There are limbs to rest, and bruises to admire. There’s the GPX route recording to analyse and laugh about. A million photos to review: two phones and two helmet cams. It’s amazing to relive some of the scenery and hilarious encounters on the road.

Over the next days, Djo drip feeds me with photos of my unintended dismounts until my phone’s memory jams.

And mech training. Laughing through the curve balls. Dinner conversations and friendship. Mungu akubariki!

As the trip replays in my head, I randomly break out in laughter throughout my day. It feels sooooo good. I come up with the many routes I still want to try out. I plan for my dirt bike training. And I realize that traveling on the bike for weeks and months doesn’t sound such an impossibility anymore!

At  Bikers’ Prayer Day I realize just how many bikers had followed our trip via Djo’s posts on AMD and my insta page. I answer many curious questions about the trip. I also realize how few people know that Turkana is not Marsabit and that there are ways to get to Lodwar that don’t involve tarmac. If only half of you go out there and go a bit wild for a few days, I’ll be very happy!

My biker pal predicted that I will need a week to recover (I trust him, he’s a doctor!). That week ends today. I am still in that meditative high, that flow state. But I am also still exhausted! Nairobi noise and air pollution don’t help.

Now, there’s this badass somewhere at the beach, my partner in crime, my re-invention muse and my business ally. She understands life with a rare intensity.

Martha penned down exactly what the trip felt like so I’ll just close this with her poem. Don’t miss to buy her book!

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Losting around Lake Turkana – Eastern shore from Ileret south (Part 2) Read More »

Losting around Lake Turkana – Western shore up to Todonyang (Part 1)

My bike, tent, a book and me. I plan to fall off the grid completely for my January leave.

A TZ roadtrip to Lake Tanganyika sounds amazing until I read up on our neighbor’s rain seasons. Maybe explore Western Kenya’s greenery instead? 

That’s when my pal talks about riding to some remote places up North. This hits the right spots in my brain. A ride around Lake Turkana? 

Turkwel hinterlands. Turkana Boy. Kibish. The Ilemi Triangle! Ethiopia. Finally to Ileret! Through Koobi Fora and Sibiloi National Park. And a chill return through Loiyangalani. Two weeks of stones and sand.

The big unknown was crossing the Ethiopian border considering their state of emergency and some customs and pandemic questions.

We put together our route ideas and come up with 3 options upon reaching mwisho wa nchi in Todonyang: Explore the Ilemi triangle and proceed to the Marsabit side via Ethiopia (Omorate), or if that would prove difficult take a boat to Ileret – or if all fails, return to Western from Kibish along the Ugandan border.

All 3 options sound epic. The full plan would have around 2300km of which around 750 tarmac.

A bunch of route options from Todonyang onwards

The stars start aligning nicely when I email the Catholic Mission in Todonyang and they actually respond and two of their staff happen to be in Nairobi and meet me for coffee. On the same day I bump into Hamish, an adventure rider, at Pallet and he shares good vybes and photos from a recent ride he did in the area.

Between finishing up work assignments we manage a pre-meeting to think through the logistics: luggage, tents, first aid, cooking equipment, food, tools, bike spares. I am keen to stay below 15kgs luggage. 

We plan to be self-reliant for at least 4 nights. I frisk Carrefour but the best menu we come up with were some vegetables and githeri in tins and noodles. And tortillas with tuna. Why is there more tinned cat than human food?

Life would be so easy as a pet!

I am carefully optimistic about my bike and relevant riding skills. Something always breaks on my trips (you just never know what!), but I had gotten a few crucial parts of the bike replaced recently, which were worn out by previous adventures. 

I just clocked 22,000 km in my riding career and am slowly graduating from the advanced beginner status. I’ve done around 1,200km adventure off-roading so far, nailed sand riding on my Loiyangalani trip (link) and successfully tested gravel riding with luggage over Christmas (link). The days through Sibiloi would be the most challenging, with the few people I know who’ve ridden there saying it’s difficult and rough riding terrain. 

Juuuuust in case
When you’re wondering what you’re missing!

The final question on my mind is whether my pal and I will kill each other on this trip.

Have you met Djo Thefu? He rides 7 times my engine size and I’m far more chatty than his introvert nature might handle. He’s a Tutajua Tu person (“We’ll see”) and I love some good old German certainty. There was only one way to find out.

When we exchange emergency contacts on the first day of the trip, it feels like a trust pact is signed to get each other home safe, or at least ‘somewhere safe’.

How do you write about such a journey?

One that Djo will also write about? After all he’s one of our if not the best story teller of 254 adventure riding.

Well, this is my story of riding around Lake Turkana. The 125cc story, one of a lover of the universe, of curiosity and encounter, a story of a woman singing over the bones!


PS: And thank you for signing up on DjoThefu Stories to join us on this trip. Leave a comment! And hopefully you’ll choose to pay the premium subscription. It allows you to contribute towards the trip and writing efforts, and indulge in brain-teasing adventure narrations (3 months at less than a boda’s oil change!).

Day 1 – To Kainuk (Turkana) via Chemolingot (off-road route)

My co-rider’s Super Tenere is faster and more comfortable, so he’s cool to ride the 400k plus to Kainuk in a day, but considering there’s another 10 days off-road following, I’m not feeling it. We agree to meet at Marigat and hit the rough road together from there. 

I arrive at Nakuru the night before in an eventful night ride (link) that has me replace a mirror and curse a driver to suffer a painful death. I aim to leave Nakuru at 8 but boy, the traffic jam is unexpected! Once out of town through Kabarak, the road is empty.

Heading northwards from Nakuru town

After unsuccessfully stopping at several spares shops for an extra clutch cable, I get some work done at the lounge of Hope Cottages in Marigat.

Djo arrives at Shell Marigat around 12:45pm. That guy looks so prepared. He could probably survive on the moon. Looking at his luggage I wonder what exactly I forgot at home and what drama it will cause somewhere in a stone desert.

Dude is oozing adventure experience

We hit the remaining tarmac towards Chemolingot. I am soooo curious how the day will go. 13 months ago I went to Eliye Springs via this route at the beginning of my offroad riding career (link) and had several heart attacks on the gravel, crossing rivers and ended up breaking a foot peg.

A lot has improved:

Near Loruk the lake had swallowed the road, but has since released it again. The tarmac is destroyed but it is dry to pass. The offroad from Chemolingot was graded and is far less bumpy, and the down hills are less gravely. 3 or 4 bridges are done where last time I had to ride through rivers (or rather ask someone to do it for me).

Enjoyment tupu
Last time I SWEATED at this river, yo!

Oh – and my bike handling skills and confidence have gone up 10 fold. It’s an enjoyable route in Baringo and then West Pokot counties and we zoom between the hills at around 40-55. I’m relieved that we’re getting the opportunity to get in sync on simple rough roads before the more adventurous stages. I love stopping for pictures and it turns out this works well for him. 

For some reason most cameras just can’t capture this guy’s face

This is also the day Djo introduces Akoth to the general public. At this point I don’t know yet that this will be my best documented roadtrip ever, photographically speaking!

How it starts

We reach the tarmac at Marich Pass at sunset, by around 6:50. It is another 20km to our destination (Calabash – which you will find directly on the right side of the highway marked by two sign posts, not where Google Maps says it is), but I have a work call at 7pm so we stop so I can take it from there. The network collapses halfway through my call from a brilliant 4G to “don’t even try to send an SMS!”. Djo has been waiting for an hour for me, and as I give up on my call and we depart, he somehow drops his prescription glasses. We ride to Kainuk in darkness and as he notices, we turn around to look for them, but to no avail.

And this is where the losting of dear and useful items on this trip starts!

We check in at Calabash approx 10km before Kainuk around 10pm. Some locals watch a Chinese kung fu style movie on TV but the kitchen is “closed”. Well, just that it’s open and I can see the pans from afar. We convince a lady on staff to warm one of our githeri tins and cook rice for us. This simple dish tastes heavenly after a long day of dust and oxygen.

The full moon shines through the trees and I enjoy a bucket shower outside my hut. I feel tranquil and invigorated at the same time. I really need this trip: A break for myself and to link up my soul and nature. 

310km done, of which 100 rough road!

Day 2 – Kainuk to Lodwar via Naipal (the sand!)

We wake up and pack our stuff. There’s something about luggage on a bike: You carry the same same stuff, but it fits differently every single day! 

Packing up at Calabash in the morning

We head to Kainuk for fuel and water. Yeah, this picture is Kainuk in Turkana county. Street lighting and tarmac you won’t find in most Nairobi estates.

Kainuk town

From here we head onwards to Turkwel Dam on a tarmac road. I have passed this junction before. Not once. I was told it’s not safe to venture in here. And that there’s not much to see anyways.

Posing at the Turkwel Dam junction

Today we will explore this route for over 180km and let me not pre-empt, but people say a lot of things. If there’s one thing to take away from this whole story it is to choose your dreams. Give the potentially epic a chance. Lean into your curiosities. Go for it! 💃 ✨

But first we run into a barrier. We’re told there’s a 100 bob charge ya county for using this road. It doesn’t exactly add up, because there really is no other road to most of the towns behind this point. We ask for a receipt which is duly written, but I’m very sure the cash won’t reach the county.

Procedure muhimu

As we reach the gate of the Turkwel Dam & Power Station, the security team explains to us the registration procedure. We proceed to meet the in-charge in his office for a chat and I scout the staff quarters in search of a toilet. Yeah, the sum of these little detours is what usually gets you in trouble at the end of the day, but what’s the point of coming all the way up here without a little exploring?

Chat with the security team at Turkwel Dam

We then ride on to the dam through some steep mountain twisties with amazing views. What looks like a railway line built by aliens are the power lines to evacuate the power.  Djo shows off some cornering skills and once at the hilltop we roll on downwards until we spot water.

Y’all hold your horses please – the corners have a lot of gravel
Bikes and water bodies: Always an amazing sight!

As we reach the dam itself, we’re informed that we’re not allowed to take pictures for security reasons. Is this a technology patent issue or do terrorists need close-up photos to destroy this important piece of infrastructure? We stroll around the dam wall for a few minutes, but on realizing the time, decide to start moving. I’m sure Djo describes this much better in his story…

Now, the off-road starts right at the bottom of the hill. Beautiful scenery, twisty narrow gravel track through trees and dry rivers. On dirt I usually need a few kms to sync with the bike and road for the day. Djo quickly disappears in front of me as I feel my way into the bumpy, slippery surface. I chuckle at this terrible start.

We had been told of an option of connecting from Nakwomoru to the main tarmac near Kalemngrok through a bridge, but aren’t exactly keen to do the Lokichar route. Djo in fact hates the idea and throws me a stern, disapproving look for even entertaining the thought.

It gets smooth and fun, and we drop the idea of the bridge to the tarmac fast. Riding through the villages, I get some fascinating micro glimpses into the Turkana culture. The place feels fairly untouched, much better than the highway experience. Young boys mind large herds of cattle. A mzee approaches Djo and it turns out he’s the same mzee who was earlier called by the camp staff to identify a good route for us. 

At some point I stop and retreat behind a thorny bush for a call of nature and place my hip bag on my bike. That’s the last time I see it. When I realize 20km of sandy trails later that I must have lost it, I quickly calculate whether it’s worth going back. If we go look for it, we will surely be caught in the dark up in the sandy Turkwel river near Lodwar. I have my ID, DL and spare bike key in my jacket. My power bank and first aid kit is in my backpack. Thankfully! I calculate that the hip bag only had my backup water bottle, tissue paper and sunscreen, so I decide to let it go and hope that whoever finds it will enjoy using it.

yes, that bag :-S

In one village we find a group of 20 young men sitting under trees. We park in the shade to drink some water and one helpfully approaches us in English and guides us on the way  “We’re discussing some issues we’re facing”.

As we ride into Naipa for a really late lunch, we find elders chilling under a tree along the road on the traditional pillows (with my best English let me describe it as an elevated wooden plate). As we climb off the bikes and stretch, the kids assemble in colourful wear. I am not sure if they were 50 but they were many. 

Someone points to the one hoteli, where we are served pilau in the backyard of someone’s house next to some baby goats tied to a tree. The kids stand around the bikes and watch us eat from across the fence. Some guy keeps running around with a huge knife, while another one offers to bring the bikes to the backyard, probably in hope of a tip. It’s equally magic and ridiculous. 

The lunch place has tight security

We have to keep moving, with 87km to go and the sand intensifying.

I’m getting better at sand! I raised my handlebar slightly juzi and am now able to sail the laggas standing. It’s a complete game changer on sand, as the bike’s wagging tail tickles my control freak brain far less. I use Shakir’s vroom vroom technique and it sure does work. I can’t believe my luck and practice this at different speeds and try different standing postures. Even Djo is getting better at sand! The Super Tenere is not light but we’re moving at 35-45. 

Bodas recommend a panya route that turns out to be an epic single track between trees. I start singing in my helmet. And noone is falling!

Isn’t this beautiful?
Riding along Turkwel river, we expected sand from feeder rivers, but YO!

Then we get to Turkwel River – a 400m wide sand river that I well remember from last year’s Eliye trip. The sun is setting. We slide around in the tire tracks. Camels are crossing. We goof around and pose for pictures. 

Bodas try to block our pictures, demanding cash to photograph ‘their’ camels. It’s one magic sunset experience. I feel like staying forever, yet it’s another 40 clicks to Lodwar!! 

Beach vybes
Movie scenes

Chasing sunlight on medium to deep sand for another 25km. I lose Djo far behind me. I hate the idea of leaving him but then again he’s probably better at lifting his bike alone than I’m able to ride in sand at night. At some point I stop and he catches up with me with the last sun rays. Ati he stoped to check on a vegetable garden project he once participated in 😳

I chase after a local rider to find the best tracks for a few km, when miraculously – TARMAC! I can’t believe my eyes but do not argue with fate. 

Black happiness

As we get to Lodwar town, the tarmac ends randomly and the mud puddles start. It must have rained just a few days ago. Maps navigates us to the Kobil peti and we fill up the tanks. From here we move onwards to a place we’ve both stayed in before (Gracious Guest House) and find the entrance demolished for road constructions. We can’t be bothered otherwise and ride through the neighbours plot to reach the gate.

After haggling for the room rate, we’re served some delicious fish and I’m jubilant enough to order a cold beer.

Dinner at Gracious in Lodwar

Day 2 done – 225km, of which 160km offroad/sand.

Djo and I don’t talk much over dinner, and instead exchange photos of the day. We experienced the exact same trip and I marvel at how our lenses capture and our social media posts process the moments uniquely. He’s a comms specialist and artist and I start thinking that he’s probably really good at what he does: telling stories that stick and move people.

Day 3 – Lodwar to Nariokotome

It’s a beautiful, calm Sunday morning. I sing through a whole gospel album while showering. Then we take a stroll through Lodwar looking for breakfast and top up some canned food at Kakumatt Supermarket. 

Good morning from Lodwar!

One of my biker friends who follows my road trips inquires whether there have been any mechanical challenges on this trip so far. I send him a side eye emoji, not yet knowing that I’ll later squarely blame him for how the day ends.  B, you know yourself!

Leaving the hotel through the demolished entrance is slightly easier now that we can actually see what we’re navigating.

Warming the bikes

We head out to Kalokol via the tarmac, which has been extended towards the lake. Gunias of dried fish are carried towards Lodwar by bodas.

Road from Lodwar to Kalokol

On our touristic to-do list were the Nasura Pillars, which we find freshly fenced but inaccessible. We take pics through the fence and hope that future visitors will be furnished with insightful information about this prehistoric cultural site.

The last handful of kms aren’t yet tarmacked and roooouuugh.

Once in Kalokol we enlist a welder to reinforce my right footpeg which has suffered southwards from the 100km of standing on the bike yesterday. I’m not taking it personal. He also fashions a pair of tire levers, as somehow Djo’s got lost. 😏

Djo exciting the Kalokol public

We then look for lunch and start moving up North at 3pm or slightly after. The fun begins. We have 75km to cover up to Nariokotome. Riding parallel to the lake shore will mean crossing all rivers flowing toward the lake. From Google Maps Satellite we can see at least 10 wide river crossings and hundreds of small ones. With “river” of course we mean lagga, a.k.a. sand. It had recently rained heavily which ideally would help us find juicy compacted sand. Still: By our calculations we are at least 1 hour behind our plan already. 

The road has corrugations and seems relatively busy with proboxes and bodas. After the beautiful previous day on empty remote tracks even a car every 5 minutes feels rudely crowded. The sand turns darker and there are some pebbles and stones.

This probox is having fun on sand

We find one truck stuck in a deep muddy river. The rain must have been nuts and we’re glad we’re here at the exact right time.

The sand here feels different than the one yesterday. It’s less compact and I slide more. Sand is not forgiving to a hesitating throttle hand. I’m also trying to do good speeds and on a downhill I get overly creative with my choice of lane and randomly hit a deep hole. Of course I go down. Djo might have died of laughter behind his balaclava but helps me lift the bike without showing it. 

In my entire riding career I have dropped my bike less than 10 times. From the top of my head I can remember two drops on the Loiyangalani trip, one in Taveta sand, one in Naivasha on a slow tarmac right turn and two side stand faints in hilly Murang’a. In the spirit of letting go, I’m about to generously double or even triple my stats on this trip.

Downhill sand, uphill sand, straight sand, sand in corners. As Djo takes the long route…

After crossing a river, I realize the front light is somewhat loose. As I stop to figure out what is going on, I see that the entire metal holding the headlight broke off. It’s 6:20pm.

We try to tie it with bungee cords, but it doesn’t look like it’ll work on the bumpy road, so I suggest to remove the light entirely.

Failed attempt at repair

We unclip the connections, put the light in Djo’s bag and calculate that we have less than 10km of sunlight left – unlikely to even reach the next small town, Nachukui. We try. At some point I pass a sizely homestead and it hits me that it might be a better bet to camp at someone’s home than going to a small town after dark trying to convince someone at the shopping centre to allow us to camp.

We agree that I will go to the homestead and ask for permission. Less threatening. I talk to the lady in Swahili but as the mzee is not home, we don’t get far. Without male permission we won’t camp anywhere, reasons Djo and suggests we ride back a bit where he saw men walking.

Turns out one of them is the local teacher. Jackpot! Boniface is heaven-sent, one of the many angels we meet on this trip!

He brings the school’s gate keys and allows us to pitch our tents, and shows us where the rain water is kept. I take a shower with two litres of rain water, while Djo cooks dinner. 

Noodles with Door Knobs, it’s been said

Today we did around 120km, of which 50 tarmac.

I lie on my bike and watch a million stars in the dark Turkana night. The locals are singing and playing drums – we’re later told they’re celebrating the rains. I feel blissful listening to them – my back is stiff and hurts, so I decide to stretch a bit on the ground – reluctant considering there could be all kinds of crawling insects. After doing my part of the dinner chores (dishes), I sleep around midnight.

Day 4 – Road to Todonyang!

Waking up around 6:30 for sunrise snaps.

Last time I camped in a school yard?

The intention was to fold and pack the tents so we are out before the kids arrive. But a conversation with the teacher about the school and the kids’ realities takes longer. When their nomadic families start moving in search of greener pastures, the kids drop out for some months.

Around 8, the kids start walking in one by one placing their piece of firewood and cup in the right spots and start playing. It’s just adorable how focused they are. 

The school’s kitchen

We buy some water in Nachukui and as we cross the lagga past town, on my left I spot a tall statue on the left. We ride up the river to find out what it is and enter a whole church compound complete with a windmill and walks of the cross. We spend an hour exploring the place and one of the catechists shows us around the church. It’s a beautiful church.

Ceiling paintings that would make Michelangelo rejoice.

My favourite depiction of Noah’s Ark ever

We climb the bell tower and get the view of the area. The bell was made in Germany and has an engraving with an ubuntu type message in both German and Turkana.

Such a beautiful view, as we listen to some gut-wrenching stuff

We’re told that water is a huge challenge. Forget farming. Even just drinking water! All wells on the first 7-10km around the lake come out salty. You’d have to drill in the mountains and pipe the water down to the villages near the lake. Quite doable technology you would think! After all it would flow down by gravity.

But we’re told the politicians just come and talk. Ask for votes. Nothing happens. Over decades. So people survive on rain water and salty water. It’s nuts!

Another 10k of dry dusty throttling and we arrive in Nariokotome without much fanfare. Where the Turkana Boy was found. One of the touristic highlights of the trip!  Hopefully it’ll work out, after the Kalokol pillar disappointment. We park at the locked gate. No sign, no phone number, no nothing. 

A lady walks up to us, she is highly unwelcoming and mumbles some words that we can’t understand. Is it Turkana? Or Swahili with a strong accent? I sign the guest book as Akoth. The lady opens the gate and as we walk to the pillar, she says elfu mbili. 2k? We understand that for the last 10 days noone has signed the guest book, but wow. We didn’t expect to pay, especially with no official signs anywhere. Djo negotiates her down to 200, which is what we have in small cash. She gets properly pissed off, but given the whole exchange happens while walking, we’re already at the skeleton (or rather the metal dummy skeleton).

We take a few snaps because there really isn’t much to see or read, or be told. The most complete prehistorical human skeleton ever discovered on this entire planet, and there is zero information. Facepalm.

We gear up and head onwards up North!

The scenery changes to bright sand again. A mountain range becomes visible on the left meaning we’re approaching Lowarengak. It’s a busy small town, larger than the other shopping centres we’ve passed. A mixed population and a bunch of shops and hotels. Nice flair. We strike up a boat option to help us cross the lake, should we not be able to ride via Ethiopia. The negotiations are stuck at 23k but we take the guy’s number anyways. 

After lunch at Ghana Hotel, we chat with the owner about potentially crossing the lake via boat. He suggests to get some advice from the Maritime Police Patrol so we ride out to the beach.

They are highly reserved, but share the number of a boat person on the Eastern shore, who could pick us up.

Then back to the road and upwards to Todonyang. Now the road becomes even more deserted. It feels like no-man’s-land already! The tire tracks are very faint now and we ride through bushes between the lake and mountain. We stop a boda to ask if we’re on the right track. We’re basically 20km from the River Omo Delta and the Ethiopian border. Sand. Dried mud sand. At some point the risen lake comes close to the road. 

And then: Open square kilometres of empty plains. I’m cruising standing along the lake on flat land void of any plant. Breathtaking. I repeat. Pure bliss. I don’t think if I’ve ever ridden in such fresh air – I feel like removing my helmet and raising my arms while riding. I guess the dopamine just blew my mind. 

Arrival in Todonyang – how do you describe this terrain with words?

We spot houses in the distance and a mobile phone mast. Sometimes you can’t wait to arrive and sometimes you want the journey to last forever.

We enter the gate of the Catholic Mission before 4pm. Our first day of arriving with ample day light – purely because we scratched the Lokitaung detour off the day’s route. They got a whole workshop for their cars and we fuel the bikes from bottles. It’s 180 per litre. The manager points us to the Father who shows us where to pitch our tents. I spend the rest of my afternoon washing my hair and doing some laundry. I also find that my period started – a whole 10 days early. Thankfully I have all my supplies but can’t help but wonder what triggered such a hormonal drop. Does this happen to other female riders, too?

This evening we chill with Fr. Wycliffe, who is in charge. Fr. Andrew who I had chatted with earlier, is on duty in another mission nearby. We have amazingly tasty goat and potato stew for dinner. We learn about the work of the Missionary Community of St. Paul the Apostle, their different locations and pastoral and community development work in medical, education and peace work up here in the border region (check them out under this link: Cross-border trade is hardly existent due to the volatile peace and climate situation up here. People rely on livestock, and farming seems impossible, considering the water is salty. They (and most other institutions in the county) find it challenging to employ skilled locals as workers, and we realize most of their skilled staff are from “downcountry”. Over the years, they were able to place some local youths in vocational training to hopefully change that situation.

The government housing scheme for the village has failed the locals’ needs and interests. Considering no community consultation was done, the housing layout doesn’t meet cultural needs and imagine that: no latrines were built. In short: Watu walikataa kuingia and preferred their stick houses.  

The mobile phone mast that we earlier saw is still under installation and could become a life changer for the local community that is currently off-grid. Obviously Safaricom takes business decisions on where and when to install masts, but local politicians are likely to sell the mast as their achievement in a bid to gather votes in the August run-up.

Tourism is stunted by the fact that there is no official border crossing. To leave Kenya here, you have to get an exit stamp in Lokichar, Eldoret or Nairobi.

We just shake our heads listening to the stories. We also hear about the reverse osmosis machine, the youth peer mentorship program, the dispensary and the schools the mission runs around Todonyang. Their other locations have other focus areas including agriculture.

Around 60km done today – all sandy roads and tracks.

Day 5 – Todonyang to Lokitaung

Our day starts with a stroll down to the lake. The rising water levels make it a bit harder as it’s all very muddy. I am inspired to climb up one of the windmills that pump water to the mission, but quickly acknowledge my monkey skills suck. 

We saw these “Kijito” windmills from Thika all around the lake

Meanwhile, Djo walks around fascinatedly looking for some bird eggs. Did I mention that these morning detours mess up a smooth evening arrival? Hold that thought.

We then decide to take the bikes to the workshop. Djo sorts the Tenere’s cooling system with some silicone in thirteen seconds, but my headlight proves more “finicky”.

First, the workshop guys weld the metal holder back to the bike. While the welding itself takes 15 minutes, knowing which cables on the headlight to connect to what cables on the bike ends up being challenging! It’s a colourful spaghetti salad (it makes sense in German!). Thankfully Djo takes charge with the workshop team who seem ready to just plug and play with the cables, potentially causing a short. The earth cable was quickly identified using that machine thingy thing. But even with systematic testing it takes us an hour to get my high beam and low beam working again correctly. Zero network here, so I can’t call my bike people in Nairobi. Just as I lose my shit and open my mouth to suggest that we don’t really need the light working anyways, cause who even rides at night, it suddenly works perfectly! 

My co-rider of an artist entertains a discussion thread on FB about his trip with Akoth. You (I mean: I) can’t read his mind or face in person, but this long morning workshop session gets processed on facebook and has his friends chime in to discuss my good looking headlight. Live and let live!

After tents and luggage are packed, we have breakfast at 12. The priest joins us and we add lunch on top of the breakfast. We debate our route for the day:

We see two options to Lokitaung. Long route via Kokuru – at least to step into the Ilemi Triangle!! Security-wise he’s less in favour: if we meet youth herders (who are usually armed), we may be stopped for cash or gifts. We brainstorm an idea of paying a local boda to ride with us, in which case we’d be under his protection thus safe. Second option is the twisty road up the escarpment. When I bumped into Hamish earlier in Nairobi, he showed me epic pics of this route – I was sold already then.

The priest advises us to go back south 60km and connect to Lokitaung on the new tarmac. He strictly believes we shouldn’t do the twists, and with some probing I realize he’s concerned we may fall and get injured in a remote place with no network. Djo asks if cars can pass the route. The answer is affirmative. I catch Djo’s eyes and know exactly what he’s thinking.

We leave around 2pm, possibly the hottest time of the day. We aren’t learning, are we?

We pass by the graveyard where Turkanas are buried in a mass grave, the victims of the 2011 massacre, a result of blind retaliation between two neighbouring communities along the Kenyan-Ethiopian border. Peace work up here is tedious! So few resources and they need sharing. A single incident can easily be blown out of proportion as the priest tells us the backstory that we hadn’t found on mainstream media before.

We have reached the most Northern point of our trip and return south, crossing diagonally through the plains from the lake towards the mountains. We ride on dried wet sand soil. It’s like crème brulé. Treacherous as there could be mud under the dried crispy surface. 

Suddenly my dashboard goes off. Then when a few sandy corners later the bike stalls randomly in the middle of a sandy stretch, the starter is unresponsive. I can’t kick it either, which suggests the battery is fried or there’s a short in the system.

It’s hot. We’re standing in sand in the middle of nowhere. No tree for shade. I suggest disconnecting the battery to just run the bike on the kick. My battery is under the tank so we quickly remove the tank then Djo disconnects the battery. I would have no idea where to start and no network to google. The bike works on the kick. Yey!!

Onwards. It is so beautiful. 

Change of scenery as we approach the mountains

Finally: Network! I catch up with my pal and expert for my bike about the bike issue and he suggests we check whether a fried LED might be blocking the electric circuit. I promise to do this later. 

Suddenly a police truck appears randomly behind me in a lagga. I nearly choke and stall the bike. I let them pass before gathering my energy. It’s HOT but I kick the bike and continue. I catch up with Djo and we ride along smooth tracks crossing laggas up and down through the middle of nowhere. Finally houses and kids herding goats. A few camels.

We meet the Lowarengak-Lokitaung road just 500m from Lowarengak.

I’m so disappointed hoping we’d come out closer to the mountain but well. We turn right towards the mountains and enter a car track full of pebbles. It’s pretty rough and difficult to ride. As we get to the mountain foot 5kms later, we’re shaken and stirred and tired of pebbles and rocks.


We enter a gorge that is filled with pebbles. On google maps it’s a 13km twisty road. We got that wrong. It’s actually a riverbed up an escarpment.  There’s small pebbles, medium sized pebbles, larger rocks, sand and water. It’s incredible. We use what feels like 20 minutes for the first kilometre and stop to exchange some learnings on how to ride on this mess.

Sometimes we get to 15. But mostly I’m stuck in first gear with my feet down, while Djo’s dinosaur ploughs smoothly through the pebbles on 2nd gear. I don’t know how he does it, but he’s constantly 200m ahead of me, already around the next bend, taking pics as he waits for me. I find a boda panya route to cut some of the twists, but it’s not helping me enough. 

Looks so scenic – feels so difficult!!

I don’t count how many times my bike stalls. I have to keep kicking it, it’s hot and there’s no breeze up here whatsoever.

Because I’m riding in tire tracks, I get thrown off easily if I’m too slow and hit the left or side wall of the tire track. I’m still trying to master the technique and pick up speed. 

smoooooth sailing – right?

I later post this beautiful picture on my instagram. It looks so elegant. Picture perfect. Djo must have captured the exact one moment when things were flowing, because vitu kwa ground were looking and feeling very different. I am getting brain fog and only piece the events on these 13km together later based on helmet cam pics.

Out of nowhere, I fly and land a good 2m from the bike on my right side. I’m not hurt (I think). My dropped bike leans over deeply into the second tire track. There’s no way I can lift the bike here. Fuel is running from the tank. And my beautiful new Naivasha mirror breaks! I kneel and manage to lift the bike and rest it on my thighs to just stop the fuel from pouring. Exhaustion sets in. Djo who had stopped for photos catches up and we lift the bike together. My heart is pumping but I’m hell-bent to figure out riding on this surface.

I have another drop on my left side. I hate it when I fall and can’t figure out why. Where’s the learning here? I take a minute to just think and remember the main tip for offroading being lifting the gaze and avoiding to stare down. I decide to try it.

Just as I move slightly more smoothly, my headlight seems to come loose and starts dancing. As Djo pulls out his spanners, I take a 3 minute nap right there on the stones. I can’t remember the last time I was that exhausted. I sleep and drink water and laugh all at the same time. As I open my eyes, I find a bunch of kids standing around me. They seem more interested in Djo’s bike than the mzungu sleeping on their play ground.

Taking pics from my river bed

I’m sure you will find a picture of the scene from Djo’s helmet cam in his story! He wouldn’t miss the opportunity to tell it like it is while serving akoth choma.

After catching my breath, we keep moving. Now we’re also trying to make mile. It’s 6:24pm now and we got over 8km left to go – with no idea what terrain awaits us ahead. It could get worse, right?

Then I reach a dry but slippery rock slab. It’s not too steep but I miscalculate the route vs my bike’s power and get stuck halfway. I decide it’s not worth breaking my leg trying to manoeuvre around so I wait for Djo to catch up and push the bike. The kids say that there’s a boda track avoiding the steep slabs. We discuss our options but it doesn’t look that bad and we don’t feel like going back (it’s not our level-headedness that got us here at this time of the day after all!).

It’s getting more interesting!

A minute later we hit some steep, wet rock steps and more kids joyfully assemble around us, they laugh and jump around and offer to help us push the bikes up the slabs.

I mean what the heck. How is this road even on Google Maps?

Djo is warming up to the adventure. The Tenere jumps up steep rocks with water flowing down – highest bidder to my mpesa will get the video.

Let me not lie – the Spirit needed longer legs at this point

“You’ve got the right tires for this work!” – Djo praises my bike when he climbs off. I hear it loud and clear.

After one or two more, we get to smooth soil. Sunlight is ending. Djo tries to light my way, but this being a twisty narrow track it’s futile. It’s blinding me more than helping. A bit of up and down entering Lokitaung. A final steep rocky uphill that I gas up in darkness. 

It’s fascinating: All the dirt riding in darkness has me improve my bike handling skills drastically: The less I see, the more my body does the right thing instinctively. There must be a transformational learning point here.

Tarmac! We celebrate. 

We ask two men for a place to eat and sleep. They tell us they want none of our tents in their town but point us to “Burundi Guest House” where we can please leave some money in the local economy. We laugh and ride over sharing a headlight on a mix of tarmac and dirt.

The lady orders food for us. Bucket shower. Mosquitoes under the torn net. Sleep.

Not more than 55km done today but WOW!

Day 6 – Lokitaung Prison and the Lake Crossing

Morning breaks over Lokitaung. It’s actually a nicely green place between the hills. I count my bruises on my right knee and thighs. It occurs to me that if I had worn my thigh bag during yesterday’s falls, I might have injured my hip. Maybe that’s why I lost it on Day 2?

We examine the electronic issue on my bike further and find that one of the LEDs in the headlight is fried, thus blocking the entire circuit. We disconnect the headlight’s cables and reconnect the battery. My heart sings at the idea of continuing this trip with the starter working!

Morning in Lokitaung

We look for breakfast and then ride out to visit the prison where the colonialists incarcerated some leaders of the independence fight from 1953 onwards (IIRC).  As if Kapenguria and Lodwar weren’t far enough – they took them here.  How scared was this white power?

Djo posing at Kenyatta’s cell’s door

The prison is being manned by APs, one of who is a KTM 990 rider. We have a good chat about his time in Lokitaung and regret not having more time as he describes some offroad adventures around the town to various hills. Just half a day’s ride without luggage would be such a treat!

Serious offroading opportunities around town

But our next stop is on the other side of the lake. We don’t even consider taking the gorge back down (Intellectually speaking I can’t recall why), so from here we take the new tarmac road back down to the lake. Do you know how every time you hit the rough road after tarmac you have to recalibrate your brain? Well, we’re getting good practice here, with a dozen off-road patches across this tarmac road. Basically they left all the river bed crossings as rough roads. 

There are also some corrugated parts today which is how I figure out that I actually injured my leg yesterday in that fall. It hurts quite a bit on the outer side of the knee, and I have to hover the foot while riding.

The tarmac from Kachoda to Nachukui

Given the road isn’t on maps (satellite images hugely outdated), we can only guess its length. It ends up being around 60 clicks of tarmac via Kachoda and we came out pretty much near the school where we camped two days earlier.  With every km tarmac going south, we will have to cover some sand going north again 😉

By now we’re communicating with guys in Ileret. Fuel stocks are low, so we fuel in Nachukui knowing well we may have to drain it when loading the bikes on the boat.

Rule 1: Fill the tank when you see fuel!

We plan for a quick 50k on the known sandy rough road to Lowarengak passing the Turkana boy once more. But my bike is bored by doing this road again and throws a curveball: I realize that one of the two bolts holding my fork is missing, and the other one is loose. We tighten it, but within 2 km it’s loose again.

Djo asks me whether I have nail polish on me. I shake my head. “Nail polish is a very good threadlook”, he says in his matter of fact voice that will have you either pull up a chair to sit down and listen, or ignore him, depending on the shape of your ego.

We reach Lowarengak and set out to replace the bolt. I find a “downcountry” fundi. Djo has enough of me losing things and instructs me to go source some nail polish while he drains the dinosaur’s fuel into a jerrycan. I walk from shop to shop and I’m met with unbelieving and regretful eyes. They are being wonderfully Kenyan about my ridiculous request and make me feel like they usually sell a huge variety of nail polish but just today morning it ran out. 

Finally, I find a half empty bottle of blue in a salon. The lady offers to make my hair as well as my nails, but on hearing I want to use it to repair my motorbike, she nods understandingly and says “You have to try. It might work!” Life can be so simple if we lift each other up in our craziness.

I have to go back to Lowarengak for braids

While I feel very lucky to not experience any cramps or other menstruation symptoms this time round, I nearly forget that I need a toilet before the second half of the day, esp the boat ride. After that’s sorted in some family’s compound’s latrine, we move onwards to the boat. The boat guy turns out to be a broker and introduces us to another guy who’ll take us. We ride through sand, more sand and finally beach sand to the water. 

A bunch of guys are ready to help us load our luggage and bikes on the boat. Djo rides his bike into the water next to the boat and stops in the middle of the crowd. I read from the group’s body language that something is not adding up. 

Small meeting

The guys are asking for 2k! He tells them 500 bob. They load his bike on the boat and (an 8 seconds job) and walk back to deal with mine. I’m still draining fuel so they have to chill. I don’t know why they decide to have the conversation in Swahili but Lowarengak being a cosmopolitan place they might not share a language. The 5 dudes debate why this guy with the white person only gives them 100 bob each. I realize that the mama with the many kids wouldn’t get any cash if this is their maths. She speaks no Swahili and has no phone so I can’t mpesa her anything. We finally find a loose 100 to tip her. A key learning for this kind of trip is to carry lots of small change. Or large cash of course.

It’s 3:20pm by the time my bike is on the boat. Turns out the captain is actually the turn boy and the captain himself is another guy. I chat them up to pass time and to raise my levels of confidence in the success of our journey. Between 2-3 hours is the promised crossing time and I’m getting mentally ready for another sand ride in darkness. 

Before we lose network signal I let some fellow riders know where we are and what we’re about to do. Sitting in their Nairobi offices, they seem highly confident in the safety of our endeavours. My friend later tells me she started dreaming of sending choppers and bikers to the rescue. Pole for the palpitations but bless you always, N!

The lake is around 35km wide here and we’re moving between 10-15km/h depending on the waves. It feels painfully slow, especially considering I have to sit in the middle of my bench. The moment I lean to the right, the propeller doesn’t shika the water well, and I’m told “Sasa imekataa, kaa kati kati”.  There’s no network for most part of the lake crossing so I get into some meditative state while keeping my eyes on the horizon to avoid sea sickness.

Entering Marsabit on the water route

By 5:30pm we are 1km off the land on the other side according to Maps and 2km according to my visual estimation. The lake’s water level has risen so much that we’re riding the boat “on land” (Maps satellite images are heavily outdated!) for quite some time. The captain has a hard time finding a landing spot and we ride northwards along the shore for a few more kms to find a spot to reach land safely. 

What Maps says
Things kwa ground

Finally, the two jump off the boat and pull us to land. 

Our phones have switched to Ethiopian network, which is as +251 as our round the lake trip will get.

A bunch of friendly locals and curious kids await us. We don’t exactly have much cash left to tip, but the Marsabitians help offload our bikes either way. I exchange some pleasantries with the boat guys about arriving safely being more important than being on time. One day my government will ask me to surrender my passport.

We wade to the knees in smelly water with tons of dead fish scales floating and slip on muddy grounds. My jeans get soaked and Djo’s boots are full of water. 

Finding a clean plastic vessel to pour the fuel back into Djo’s bike turns out a bit tricky, and by 6:45pm all we can think of is chasing sunlight on the remaining 10km down to Ileret through the sand.

But the universe loves us: The widest lagga has been fixed up with concrete and the road resembles a slightly sandy highway. Some corrugations, which we hit with 50-60, and on arrival in Ileret, Djo spots the illuminated cross of the Catholic Mission, which he suggests to follow. I really can’t see any cross, but some teenagers point us to the kanisa and a minute later we actually reach the mission. We greet the priest who just walks into the compound from evening mass. “Hi! Are you Fr. Benedict? (Yes). Can I ask you a crazy question? (mmmhhhh, okay?) Did you just switch off the cross?”

We all laugh heartily about the cross lighting our way but disappearing midway and me doubting Djo’s sanity (I never saw the cross!). The priest shows us a few camping spots and we choose the one on the hill top, pitch our tents and scavenge the left-overs from the dinner of some cheerful NGO workers who are in town. We would have cooked (noodles!!) but instead devour ugali cabbage. The shower is heavenly and we get to charge our devices on solar and let everyone know we made it alright to Ileret! 

Day 6 done: 55+ tarmac, 50k offroad and 40km water

We’re halfway through our trip. Some incredible memories made!

Everyone’s healthy and no bike turned submarine. Team vybes are strong so far and our humour and patience sort out the little occurrences along the journey. The intimidation of riding with Kitui Djothefu has reduced, despite the fact that he’s keeping his shit together way too well while I keep dropping the bike. My bike’s mechanical issues give him something to use his brain power on, which I believe he’s secretly happy about (who rides for 6 days without music??).

Our route plan has two more day stages to Loiyangalani (which is just as good as home!). That night I bathe in the feeling of accomplishment and success!

Good morning in Ileret

Are you having fun reading this? It’s hard to write about a 12-day trip! Maybe this should have been a book instead!?

Short break before we go to part 2: Some key logistics & ride preps

Y’all have asked me questions about my experience planning for the logistics of such a ride. Here you go:

Safety Gear? 

1. I swear by my mesh jacket up here. It’s 35°C and you’re riding off-road meaning you’re highly physically engaged while riding. Sometimes you move at 10 km/h with no breeze, and sometimes you stand in the sun figuring out your next steps for a few minutes. 

2. Boots: Off-Road boots would be much more ideal to protect feet, ankles and shins. My riding boots are armoured and high but in comparison to offroad boots leave 2 areas of my legs exposed to risk: If a foot gets stuck between rocks or twigs while riding the ankle may twist or break. The footpegs can causes bruises on the calves.

3. Knees and thighs: My riding jeans is two sizes up and therefore airy enough to not sweat. Just the thought of wearing those velcro knee guards or tight jeans makes me sweat. You could also get mesh pants (Check at Gear Hub on Likoni Road!). I fell on my side a few times, collecting bruises on the side of the knee (where the knee padding does not reach). So that’s my next thing to figure out. I will also endevour to have as little as possible luggage on my body in case of falls. The hip bag got the memo and said goodbye before my first unintended dismount.


Knowing what to carry and what is useless is the first step. Finding the right bag solution to carry your stuff is the second, equally important step.

Basically, with these vibrations, everything will fall and tear and break. The dirt, sand and dust will penetrate all fabric and zips. 

I follow Kinga’s advice and put all my luggage including the tent and mattress into one large speed bag (a basic, dirt cheap 75l canvas bag with a roll-down closure from Germany). Good idea because the tent bag would have torn completely on these roads if I had carried it separately. I tie the speed bag down symmetrically with two (EU normed) straps with metal buckles and then fixate them further with bungee cords. After the first bumpy kilometer of a day my items would have moved around a little inside my bag and then I stop to lash the bag down again more tightly. It works pretty well after I figure it out on Day 3 or so! I love that I only have one item to watch in my mirrors. Sorry, mirror singular. Muuuuch better than losing my contact lenses because of a torn backpack zip in Eliye last year…

Only disadvantage is that my tools are inside the bag – making them hard to access during the day. They would be more ideally placed in a tank bag.

I also had a very light backpack for my water, snacks, first aid kit and power bank.

Djo has a cool saddlebag combination from Red Mamut, allowing him to store his clothes separately from the kitchen and camping equipment. It also has separate pockets for first aid kit and tools. So where we don’t camp, he can just remove the bag with his clothes and has an easier time packing in the morning than I do – my bag needs packing from scratch every single day.

Bike love?

A 1,300km rough off-road ride is not a joke on any bike.

Carrying tools, yes, sure. But do we even know if we really have all the tools for our bikes? Does that spanner which I have actually fit between that awkward plastic and metal to tighten that nut?

Check bearings, fork, suspensions and seals – and don’t be afraid to replace things before departure. Consistent use of thread lock or even use of lock nuts in crucial spots would have been really ideal (giving myself a side eye for this oversight) and saves you time on a daily bolt check. Carrying extra spark plugs and throttle/clutch cables is key. We had a full puncture repair kit incl. pump and tire levers. And the nail polish.

Medical side of things?

How’s your nutrition and fitness generally? I don’t mean lifting weights but having endurance for many 12-hour days in a row. While on the road, staying hydrated is a major strategy to safe riding. If you’re not peeing, take 10 minutes and finish a whole bottle of water, please. Start and finish your day with an extra litre. A few sachets of ORS are standard. First aid kit and skills (!) are a must. We didn’t plan to need to remove ticks from our bodies, but indeed the 1st aid kit had tweezers. An air evacuation cover is obviously ideal and rather affordable.

Knowing the route and directions?

20km up here can take 2 hours as we impressively proved enroute to Lokitaung. We used several apps with different map material to piece together our route before departure (MapsMe, Gaia and Google Maps Satellite view). In addition, we always confirmed on the ground whenever possible, even the most basic information about the terrain, road, distance, weather, safety etc. As expected, the more relevant intel comes from local riders, not people who use cars. We got it wrong a few times. Gathering info from other riders is also helpful, as panya routes exist that are not on Maps. 

Excited to find out what went down on the remaining half of the trip?

Continue with Part 2 here (link) for the deets on the Marsabit and Samburu adventures with some incredible moments with 6 million year old fossils, riding through Sibiloi National Park, advanced mechanical challenges and some bone-shattering night rides!

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Losting around Lake Turkana – Western shore up to Todonyang (Part 1) Read More »

Whisperings of Cheper | Part 4

Trouble checks in! There’s a long stretch of road that is just a sand basin, pure deep sand. There are very few car tracks and absolutely no motorcycle tracks. Motorcycles don’t pass here. Riding slows down to a crawl. Looks smooth in the photos, but believe me, it’s a sandpit!

We are about 100 kilometres from Loiyangalani. For sure, we are not making it there. We change our target destination for the night to Gas town. This is the “highway” upon which we dreamt of cruising. All this time, no one passes by. Not a car. Not a motorbike. No one.

Here is just dance session.
Large regions of sand and craziness.
Zooming in on Maps shows how vehicles go off the main road to avoid going mad. We don’t know this, and we are going mad now. The squiggly section of the red line is where I next fall in the sand.

We stop to evaluate our situation. It’s about an hour and a half to darkness. We are hardly doing 15kph.

Discussing our options. It’s clear we are in deep shit!

Akoth goes ahead.

I fall, but Akoth doesn’t see it, she keeps going. I have to take some bags off to lift the bike.

Bags off. This is the reason why I got quick release bags.
Restrapping bags.
Onward soldier!
Looks smooth and nice, but you can see the dance in the handlebars!
I try to ride the side of the road. It’s better, but deep trenches and ridges force me back into the sand basin.
The torture goes on forever…
…and ever…

I finally meet Akoth, she is stopped after the crazy sandy section. She tells me that she also fell just a little after we parted. That was just comedic! 40 minutes to cover 5 kilometres!!

Giving each other some quick sort of therapy for the trauma we just endured!

We keep going, but soon we have to stop again and figure out this shit. It’s getting dark. Akoth wants a plan. My plan is simple: we keep going. But she doesn’t have a headlight. The road is terrible, we have graduated from crazy sand to crazy gravel. It’s a difficult ride. We are slow. And another problem: we have not fuelled since Illeret. We are not sure we have enough fuel. We agree to keep going, and try to make it to Gas.

Another stop to confirm with each other that we are actually in deep shit, that this is reality, and not some bad dream we shall wake up out of. Yep, it’s shit. Deep. It’s hit the fan biggly. Monumental covfefe!

All this time, we have met absolutely no one. Not a single soul.

We find a sign and a junction. A very cute sign… Complete with a nice little cute gable roof over it. But nothing is written on it…

“Very useful sign!” quips Akoth, smarting with sarcastic frustration.

We check our maps. The road to the right looks less used, but it is the one to Gas. The road straight on goes to North Horr. We take the right. On my GPS, I loaded the track I used last time, and we are far from it. I’m a bit confused about that, wondering why we are on a different road.

We take the right.

Akoth goes ahead, to make use of the little remaining daylight. I take some photos before following along.

The road is still crazy, difficult to ride gravel, with two deep vehicle tyre tracks. One has to stick to the tyre ruts. If you touch the walls of the ruts you risk losing control on the gravel. Lighting such a road with artificial light doesn’t help matters, It’s even more difficult to read the road, and more so for Akoth who soon has to rely on my headlights.

Vast landscape of nothingness…

Akoth says she sees better with the white light than the yellow one. I switch my main headlights on to the high beam, in addition to my yellow spotlights, to get the bright white light.

Another stop to check our sanity.

We are tired, but we plod on. We have to ride in a certain formation for my headlight to be useful to her. It makes things even harder. I need some momentum to ride the gravel well. Akoth is slower and coming down with fatigue too. She has been riding such gravel with ease, but is not doing so well now. The sudden stops throw me off my rhythm. It’s been kilometres upon kilometres of going up a long incline. We keep hoping we will reach the horizon, and on the other side, the gravel will end. We will be able to cruise faster. We consider camping out here, but we do not have enough water. We keep praying to happen by a settlement, a manyatta, people… But none appear. We are tired, but we plod on…

And all this time, we meet no one. Not a car. Not a motorbike. No one.

Suddenly, it hits me why we are not on the path I recorded on my GPS two years ago. I rode to Sibiloi with a friend, and now I remember that we left the main road and followed some motorcycle paths for many kilometres before coming back to this road. We did not pass through his section. The motorcycle path was way better. We should be on that motorcycle path!

I tell this to Akoth, and we check maps to see where that motorcyle path rejoins this road. Maybe the road will be better after that. It doesn’t. It runs kind of parallel to the road we are on for a long distance. Cofveve!

Akoth goes down.
We keep going…

I look at my GPS and see that we are approaching where the motorcycle path joins this road. We reach it, and I notice that it doesn’t join, it crosses this road from the right and goes on to the left. I rush up to tell Akoth I think we should turn left and follow it. We stop and discuss it for a moment…

“Is my light getting dimmer?” I ask Akoth.
“Yeah, it is.”

I switch off my bike’s ignition in horror. I flip all my light switches off, switch the ignition back on, and try to start the bike…


My battery is flat.

Suddenly it’s quiet. As quiet as an expansive gravel-floored tomb.

And dark. Pitch black. Except for our phones’ screens.


Whisperings of Cheper | Part 4 Read More »

Whisperings of Cheper | Part 3

I come around a bush, and there is the pool… Except there’s a naked local woman in it, bathing, waist-deep in the water. She pauses scrubbing herself and glowers at me. Our eyes lock for a moment, both of us caught by surprise. I hastily turn around and walk back up. So, once again, I don’t have photos of the pool. If you want to see it you will just have to visit the place yourself, ey?

We need fuel. We have been assured that fuel is available in the village, but neither one of us wants to ride today. Not even a few meters. We agree to buy the fuel in containers and bring it to our bikes. But we don’t know how much we need. After a half-hour or so of separately scouting around, I am left to fuel the bikes. Akoth has a work call to make. I go to the village to a place that sells fuel at 10 litres for 2000 shillings. I need to do this quick because the sun is going down, and I must enjoy and photograph the sunset.

Finally, sunset…

Dinner today is, again, another feast worth of kings. We have conversations with the other guests (they are leaving tomorrow too) and later settle into our tents for the night. But not before Akoth spots a small brown scorpion rushing from under her tent.

Pieces of Akoth’s bike that are no longer attached to the bike.


Day 8:  Friday 28th January, 2022 | Illeret to Koobi Fora

I have bad memories of Koobi Fora and Sibiloi National Park from my trip two years ago. I have always wanted to go back to exorcise those memories, and hopefully create good ones. I wanted to ride through there last year solo, but was told that the security situation in the park was not good. Today it’s all systems go. I’m excited about that, despite the lurking anxiety.

Good morning. After breakfast, we pack up to leave. While packing up my tent, I disturb the peace of another scorpion that runs out from underneath it.

Packed and ready to leave, but I’m busy watching Kevin Kamau Muchai, the building and construction technologist, giving building tips online. Two years ago you could hardly send a text message here. Today I can watch a video online.
Posting a trip update on Facebook.
A little photo session before leaving.

We stop at TBI to take some photos at the gate.

Life goes on. If you know you know…
Straightening Akoth’s handlebars.
Adjusting her clutch.
Carcass by the roadside.

We are riding the Illeret-North Horr road. We need to find the junction where we branch off and make entry into Sibiloi National Park. Like I said earlier, my traced GPS route is not helping us. We navigate by phone.

Akoth goes ahead, as usual. After a bit of riding, I slow down. We have gone too far, we should have turned into Sibiloi already. I stop to check the map, and sure enough, we missed the turn. Akoth shows up, she has also turned around. I turn around too, and we slowly make our way back, looking for the junction.

We run into a herdsman with some cows at the junction.
How did we miss the sign?
We can’t understand each other, but I figure he is asking for medicines. He is friendly, even runs around to collect sticks to put under my side stand so the bike won’t sink into the sand as I get off to take photos.

We pause, to check with each other, and confirm that we are committed to this madness. Yes, we are.

Whisperings of Cheper | Part 3 Read More »

Whisperings of Cheper | Part 2

He sorts out Akoth’s footpeg issue and makes me a pair of tyre levers. I don’t like the tyre levers. They are a far cry from my Buzettis, and will be really difficult to use in case of a puncture. I don’t like them so much that I never even take a single photo of them.

I also buy a spare clutch cable. I tell the guys seated outside the shop that I’m not happy about how they are giving us high prices.

“What can I do to be one of you, so you can be nice to me?” I ask. “I should marry one of your daughters!”

They tell me that that is ok, I just need to give them 300 camels.

“Where will I get 300 camels?” I ask.

They also express interest in Akoth. “Leave her with us, they say.”

“Give me 300 camels,” I say.

I have another phone conversation with someone whose home is Kibish, about the possibility of going around the lake through Omorate. The moment I mention that I’m with a white person, he tells me to forget about it. The Ethiopians are real jumpy right now, and they might think it’s an investigative reporter. And just like that, we bury any thoughts of going through Omorate.

We need to find a place to have lunch.

We find a hotel after looking around.

Done with lunch, we leave and head north. Going to the KWS camp and the fundi has eaten up some good time. It’s running late now. We don’t know the condition of the road north. Our options are to go find out or spend the night in Kalokol. We go to find out.

Leaving Kalokol.

The road north turns out to be not as sandy as I thought it would be. If you look at maps, it closely follows the edge of the lake, and so I expected it to be as sandy as the one heading south towards Eliye. But it still is rough, and not fun to ride.

Corrugation. Tough.

It is becoming increasingly clear that we shall not make it to Nariokotome before dark. We discuss options, one of which is to find a way to the lake and camp by it for the night.

This should be Kataboi.
Can you spot Akoth?

Akoth stops. Her headlamp is moving around too much. It’s threatening to fall off. We hope to tighten whatever is loose, but find that we have even bigger problems. The bracket holding the light is breaking off its support. It needs to be welded back. Not a roadside fix. We try to hold the lamp still with bungee cords, an effort that proves futile. We eventually decide to remove the lamp altogether from the bike. It’s the heaviestheadlampintheworld lamp! That’s a German word. No wonder the bracket gave up! I’d give up too! The headlamp ends up in my poor pannier bag.

My suspension creaked in protest when I placed that heaviestheadlampintheworld headlamp on my bike.

That eats over thirty minutes of our time. Things are now getting desperate. We need somewhere to stay for the night. We can camp anywhere, but we did not stock up on enough water. We are not sure the little we have will last us a night in this heat. Our option is to find a way to the lake, or camp at any village we come across.

We stop a truck in desperation and ask the occupants if there is any shop nearby where we can get water. They say no. We ask if they can spare us some water, which they do.

We reach a small settlement. Akoth is running fast ahead, trying to cover as much ground as she can before dark. She is flying, now that we have shifted 50 kilos of heaviestheadlampintheworld headlamp from her bike to mine. The next small settlement we saw on maps is 6km away. I, however stop to chat a man and a woman by the side of the road. I ask them if there’s anywhere nearby we could buy water. They say that there is a shop nearby. I ask if there’s a way to the lake. They tell me that the only way is the dry river we just crossed a few hundred metres behind. I get the feeling that this would be a good place to stay for the night. I run to catch up with Akoth.

We decide to go back and stay at that settlement for the night. We reach near some huts, and Akoth says she will go and talk with them and see if they can allow us to camp at their homestead for the night. I say ok. There are some women in the homestead, and she starts a conversation with them. I can’t hear them, but I’m not hopeful. I can’t see a man. I do not think these women will make such a decision without a man present.

Akoth calls me over. I try to talk with the woman, but her body language is enough to tell me we won’t get anywhere. I instead ask her if there’s a place we can get water, a shop. I thank her, and we walk away.

“They can’t decide without the man,” I tell Akoth.

We keep riding back. A short distance away we spot some mabati structures by the side of the road, and some men chilling on chairs outside. The men turn to look at us and run towards us as we slow to a stop…

Whisperings of Cheper | Part 2 Read More »

Farcing the Daasanach Fora | Part 1

Illeret. It is said to mean The lugga of blood. It is said that a long time ago, the Daasanach people (the tribe that lives in Illeret) held a circumcision ceremony at the lugga (riverbed crossing) and Gabra men attacked, and killed all the initiates. The lugga was red with the blood of the slain. Hence “illeret,” the lugga of blood. No, this won’t be a blood and gore story, I promise. This will be a story of venturing into the unknown, facing fears, and being surprised by how much joy a little trust births. The trust that the unknown people you shall meet in an unknown territory will be nice. The trust they have that you are not coming to them with ill intentions.

Early 2019, I had never heard of Illeret. Neither had I ever heard of the Daasanach people. If you follow the east coast line of Lake Turkana, Illeret is the last major town before you get into Ethiopia. I saw it on Google maps, and my curiosity perked. This is a story of how Illeret went from being just a blob on Google Maps, to smiling people. Chapatis at a village hotel. The carpeting in a Daasanach hut. A dog chewing at a boy’s shoes at church mass. Yes, a dog attending mass at a small beautiful church. Mass during a heavy unexpected storm. And forcefully throwing a drunk old man off my bike.

I was yelling “Shuka!”

NOTE: This story was first published as a Facebook Note on January 19th, 2020. The trip began on December 27th, 2019, and took ten days.

This story is in 4 parts. It will do you well to read them in the correct sequence. I have woven this story as a tapestry over the four parts. Skipping any portions (even photo captions) will result in threads coming undone at the end. One might, as a result, fail to understand obscure references at the end. You will get all the juice out of this story if you chew it patiently section to section. Alright now, I will tell you the whole story from the beginning. Sit down.

Prologue | The plan, and lessons from the past

Last year, Timam, Tina and I did a motorcycle trip to Nakodok, the border of Kenya and South Sudan. It was an awesome trip, and we had so much fun together. However it taught me the value of planning well (even if you don’t eventually stick to the plan). I felt like, during that trip, we rushed through places and hardly visited them. We spent what was supposed to be our rest afternoon visiting Kalokol and fatiguing ourselves down to Eliye Springs. We did not know how close we were to the beautiful Crater Island, and we left Eliye Springs without having set an eye on the Eliye Springs. Kind of a waste. I was quite overcome with mirth when, back in Nairobi, one of us declared “I have been to Eliye Springs, and can confidently say there are no springs there.” I know the springs exist, because I have visited them before.

This time I take time to look up what attractions are in the areas I hope to pass through. I find out about the Desert Museum, I read up on the El Molo people and their sacred shrines, I read up on Koobi Fora – I go through as much material as I can find about the area.

The initial plan is to reach Loiyangalani in a day, spend the next day visiting the museum and the El Molo people, before going on north. The plan is to also have some rest days. Both Timam and Tina express interest in joining in on the trip. Tina can’t because she does not have enough days. Timam comes to my place on 20th December, and we each draw up our desired trip plans. Our plans don’t agree. I make it clear that I can spare a total of 10 days for the trip, and intend to be in no hurry. He wishes to be back home earlier. By the time he leaves, we are not in agreement at all. I get the feeling that I shall be doing this trip alone, and start preparing myself for that eventuality. I have been planning this trip alone for months now, anyway. The option of it being a solo ride is not so unwelcome.

I start with the bike. I have already put in fresh oil and new tyres.

I go to Muthee Mutitu who helps weld up some cracks in the frame. My bike has the tendecy to crack a lot.
I service the front forks.
I lay out the stuff I intend to take with me. Only things missing here are my safety gear, luggage bags and camel bag.

Pre-trip bike problems

My plan is to go upcountry for Christmas, then come back to Nairobi on 26th, and start the journey on 27th. By 23th, Timam has showed intent to still come along, but I’m not sure he will come all the way all the days with me. On 23th too, I realise with trepidation that my bike is NOT ready for any trip! It is overheating. Oil on the radiator cap suggests a blown head gasket. Travelling to hot regions such as Northern Kenya with a blown head gasket would be impossible. The trip upcountry has to be cancelled, I have to quickly fix my bike.

Luckily, I already have fresh gaskets that I had purchased a while back. Luckily also, I do most of my own repairs and maintenance. Three years ago I took this bike apart and rebuilt it, putting almost every component in its place myself. On 24th I bring the bike into my compound and start stripping it up.

Oil on radiator cap.
I put the bike on the verandah, so I can work even through rain.
Front end stripped off for easier access to the engine.

On 25th, I begin tearing into the engine.

Cylinder and cylinder head.
Pistons hanging out. One shows of bad mixture.
Muthee Mutitu comes over to help. He cleans the cylinder head and laps the valve seats. He saves me about 4 hours’ work. He doesn’t charge me anything, says it is his Christmas gift to me.
New and old gaskets.
Cylinders back on.
Doing the valve clearances. It’s easier to do them with the cylinder head on the bench.
By 10:30pm, I have the engine back together.

The next day I bolt everything on. I’m a bit nervous because the trip begins in less that 24 hours. I usually don’t like working on my bike, and immediately embarking on a long trip. I prefer riding the bike around town for some days first to make sure everything is ok . But this time it will be a leap of faith. I cross my fingers and hope everything is ok with the bike.

Back on her feet. Now for a road test. Trip begins tomorrow!!

Day ONE | 27 Dec 2019

I wake up in the morning and start packing up the bike. I had not properly figured how to strap the adventure bags, since I have never used them before, and this takes me some time. Timam tells me to carry for him the three man tent. He is coming on the trip, after all, and I’m to meet him ahead, because he is at his folks’ home in Meru.

All luggage on bike, including tent for Timam. Ready to begin the trip.

I’m supposed to leave at 6am, but run late and leave at 8:30. The idea of doing Loiyangalani in a day is already nose diving. It’s a quick ride to Nanyuki.

Leaving home.
Thika Road.
I meet a group of bikers enjoying their holidays on the road.
And another.

The bike is running well. It seems the repairs worked out fine. I will still have to monitor the temperature, especially when we get offroad. At Nanyuki, I give Timam a call. He tells me that he is in Meru town. We agree to link up at Isiolo.

Checking the equator at Nanyuki.
Trying to get a shade near big brother.
Big rig heading somewhere north.

I meet Timam in Isiolo. We repack things. I hand him the tent. He gives me two five litre jerry cans to carry. We may need to carry extra fuel somewhere along the way. I must mention that we are not sure about how the trip will be, or how the roads will be. We have had conversations with a couple of people who have travelled that way, but everything is still uncertain. We have no idea what the towns/villages look like, whether we shall be welcome, where we shall spend the nights… It’s a big leap of faith. To put it another way, we really have very little idea what the hell we are doing.


We grab a quick lunch, and are soon on our way to Laisamis.


They stop to check on us. That’s a live sheep in the crate.

Some two boys walking a cow find me stopped and ask for water. I don’t have any water in bottles I can hand out. I let them suckle at my camel bag. I have to communicate to them using signs that they must bite for the water to come out.

Before Covid-19 made the world weird.

We arrive at Laisamis. This is where we begin our offroad riding. It’s late afternoon, and we know we can’t make it to Loiyangalani today. We do not know where we shall spend the night.

Shops at Laisamis petrol station.

After fuelling up, getting some cash, stocking up on bits of supplies, we hit the road towards Loiyangalani. It starts off with a bit of tarmac for the first fifteen kilometres, then gives way to a well graded gravel road. The road is well made, as it has been used by trucks taking materials and supplies to the Loiyangalani wind power project. Our plan is to follow this road till Loiyangalani. What we do not know is that the new road does not follow the old road and is not on maps, and we keep losing it along the way.

We reach the Milgis Lugga that has some water in it. I’m in front, and I do something stupid. Since I can see vehicle tyre marks going into and out of the water, I don’t bother to check the depth before crossing. There’s a deep-ish ditch under the water and it catches me by surprise, I almost drop my bike in the water. My shin-high boot sinks in the water till it’s almost pouring in through the top. I recover, though, and power out of the river.

Farcing the Daasanach Fora | Part 1 Read More »